New kid on the electric block
Over the past few years, the Geneva Motor Show has seen some established names fall off the exhibitor list, for one reasons or another, to be replaced by startups or other vehicle manufacturers who think they have what it takes to crack the market. This year’s show was no exception, with notable absentees including Ford, Volvo, and Jaguar Land Rover, replaced by relatively new OEMs who were appearing at the show for the first time.
One of the most interesting stories from the 2019 show was that of Aiways, a Shanghai-based company founded by Gary Gu and Samuel Fu. The two men have years of experience within the autonomic sector, one of whom (Gu) being former CFO of SAIC. Aiways was only established in early 2017, but has enjoyed a meteoric rise and growth to now boast a global headquarters, R&D and manufacturing centers, and more than 1000 staff on the books.
“In 2017, we knew something was changing in the industry and believed that electrification, connectivity, and artificial intelligence would be driving the sector in the years ahead—as well as a user-ship or sharing model, as opposed to the traditional model of buying and owning vehicles,” explained company President, Fu. “The car of the future will be very different to what we have today and we have no control over it, because we’ve seen how goods such as mobile phones can evolve so quickly.”
Fu believes that the car industry will go through a similar change, so Aiways is established as an electric car company, which is doing things differently. “We have three cars, including the U5, in the pipeline,” he said. “The U5 will be introduced in the 4th quarter of 2019, and we will have the second car at the Shanghai Motor Show, but that will be a concept car. We then have a further concept car, but all three will produced and sold, initially in China and Europe, but eventually around the world.”
Aiways clearly has high hopes for the U5, and believes there is space in the market for another SUV. The vehicle has a few unique selling propositions, one of which being the use of artificial intelligence—largely in the form of facial recognition. “We want the car to become more like smartphones where they recognize the person as soon as the two components interact with each other. We want to be able to offer services to the customer before they want them, based on what we already know about the individual,” explained Fu. “A computer is just a computer; how it is used depends on the customers, not the people who develop the computers. We want to understand it from the end user’s point of view, as opposed to the person developing the technology. Even though we are not AI experts, we know how we can make cars smarter, customers happier, and the driving experience more enjoyable.”
In the U5, facial recognition will pick up when the driver is getting drowsy and subsequently send an alert and suggest they stop for a break. The passenger can also use the U5 like a mobile concierge, with the voice recognition system managing infotainment and climate controls. There is also a form of in-car childcare provided by the system, as alerts are sounded when a child drops a toy, drink, or any other item on the floor.
The car’s lane-departure system uses an element of automation above 60 km/h () as well as a blind-spot warning system and network that alerts the driver when there is a vehicle or object behind the car when reversing or overtaking.
In a similar vein to Volkswagen Group EVs, the U5 is built on a modular and scalable platform called MAS (More Adaptable Structure). This base uses a mixture of aluminum and “intelligent” high-strength steel, which the Chinese claim is some four times stronger than traditional high-strength steel.
Powering the U5 is a battery that was developed independently by Aiways with a capacity of 63 kW·h, which allows a maximum range of more than 460 km (286 mi), measurement method undisclosed. Using a DC rapid charger, the U5’s battery takes 40 min to reach 80% from 20%, or from 10% to 95% in less than 8 h using a AC charger for overnight recharging.
The performance of the battery is achieved in part thanks to packaging. The battery adopts a sandwich structure using CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited) cells and modules. This structure adds in a layer of isolation plate between the battery module and the cooling plate. As a result, the battery and cooling plate are independent of each other, ensuring greater safety by mitigating the risk of the unit short-circuiting if damaged. In addition, an intelligent thermal management system developed by Aiways is said to improve efficiency, performance, and safety.
The battery pack is mated to an electric motor that delivers peak power of 140 kW and 315 N·m () of torque at a maximum of 16,000 rpm. The car’s complete electric drive system claims to be the most compact design offered by any EV manufacturer—15% smaller than similar systems. Reiterating the goal of modularity, the unit has been designed to fit in a range of applications and sizes of vehicle, regardless of whether front-, rear-, or all-wheel drive.
Not content with merely entering the automotive market, Aiways clearly wants to change the whole process of developing, producing, and even buying a vehicle, according to Fu. “We need to use more technology in every element of the industry—starting with concept development and then looking at manufacturing, logistics, and maybe sales and service and market intelligence,” he said. “Today, everyone focusses on the product itself, saying it should be autonomous or connected, and that is the way to go. This car starts has L2 autonomous vehicle capabilities, and we have worked a company that we invested in as well as other partners in order to get it right. They are the coding guys, but we know what the customer needs.”
Speaking of those customers Fu stated that the company’s intention is to deal directly with potential U5 buyers, instead of having dealerships—a trend that is becoming more and more popular. He does, however, admit that a good relationship with the aftermarket is needed because “the car cannot repair and maintain itself.”